An SDK for the ESP8266 WiFi Chip

ESP The ESP8266 is a chip that turned a lot of heads recently, stuffing a WiFi radio, TCP/IP stack, and all the required bits to get a microcontroller on the Internet into a tiny, $5 module. It’s an interesting chip, not only because it’s a UART to WiFi module, allowing nearly anything to get on the Internet for $5, but because there’s a user-programmable microcontroller in this board. If only we had an SDK or a few libraries…

The ESP8266 SDK is finally here. A complete SDK for the ESP8266 was just posted to the Expressif forums, along with a VirtualBox image with Ubuntu that includes GCC for the LX106 core used in this module.

Included in the SDK are sources for an SSL, JSON, and lwIP library, making this a solution for pretty much everything you would need to do with an Internet of Things thing. As far as LX106 core is concerned, there’s example code for using the spare pins on this board as GPIOs, I2C and SPI busses, and a UART.

This turns the ESP8266 into something much better than a UART to WiFi module; now you can create a Internet of Things thing with just $5 in hardware. We’d love to see some examples, so put those up on and send them in to the tip line.

Use a Cheap PIN Diode as a Geiger Counter


After the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, radiation measurement became newly relevant for a lot of people. Geiger-Müller tubes, previously a curiosity, became simultaneously important and scarce. (English-language version here) has complete instructions for making a Geiger counter without a Geiger-Müller tube. Instead, this counter uses a PIN photodiode and some carefully chosen operational amplifiers. The total cost of such a device is significantly cheaper than the alternative: under $1 for the diode and around $5 for the rest. And since the PIN photodiode in question is used in many other devices, it’s not a niche component like a Geiger tube is.

The secret sauce is in component selection and tuning. Opengeiger uses the BPW34 diode because it is relatively common and has a large surface area, but also because it has a very low capacitance when reverse-biased. The first-stage opamp choice is also fairly critical. Considering that an average gamma radiation event produces only around 10 nanoamps for about 50 microseconds, a lot of amplification (100,000x), low noise, and high bandwidth are a must.

If you want to get started with this project, you could first browse through the explanation (PDF) to get an overview of the project’s goals, read up on all the technical considerations (PDF) or just head straight for the DIY instructions for the “Stuttgarter Geigerle” (PDF, schematic is on the last page). All of the documentation is chock-full of relevant references and totally worth the read.

FlowPaw, the Bear Paw of Electronics Education


If the astonishing success of littleBits is any indication, there’s a huge market for ‘intro to electronics’ products that are much more capable than the classic Radio Shack ‘springs and components stuck to cardboard’ kits or even the very successful littleBits. FlowPaw is the latest entry in this space, combining the sensor module paradigm of littleBits with a largish microcontroller, digital and analog pins, and a great programming interface.

The big innovation in the FlowPaw is the FlowStone programming language. It’s a graphical programming language that allows young creators to connect blocks, modules, and functions together with virtual wires, but also allows the editing of different modules with Ruby. Best of both worlds, there.

The FlowPaw kickstarter includes rewards for just the FlowStone software, or the FlowPaw electronics board with a bunch of modules. Already, the team has LED, relay, accelerometer, buzzer, and capacitive touch sensors, along with a Bluetooth and speech recognition module. They’re working on a few more advanced modules for GPS, pressure, DC motor control, and RFID as well.

Using Excel to Watch Movies at Work


The Excel subreddit exploded earlier this week when redditor [AyrA_ch] shared his custom spreadsheet that allowed him to play video files on a locked-down work computer. How locked down? With no access to Windows Media Player and IE7 as the only browser (all plugins disabled, no HTML5), Excel became the unlikely hero to cure a 3-hour boredom stint.

Behind the cascade of rectangles and in the land of the Excel macro, [AyrA_ch] took advantage of the program’s VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) functions to circumvent the computer’s restrictions. Although VBA typically serves the more-complex-than-usual macro, it can also invoke some Windows API commands, one of which calls Windows Media Player. The Excel file includes a working playlist and some rudimentary controls: play, pause, stop, etc. as well as an inspired pie chart countdown timer.

As clever as this hack is, the best feature is much more subtle: tricking in-house big brother. [AyrA_ch]‘s computer ran an application to monitor process usage, but any videos played through the spreadsheet were attributed to Excel, ensuring the process usage stayed on target. You can download it for yourself over on GitHub.

STEAM Carnival Hacker Preview Day

Carney For LifeLast week we wrote about the guys over at TwoBitCircus and their upcoming STEAM Carnival. This Thursday we managed to make it down to the Hacker Preview day where they showed us all the toys and games that will be exhibited over the weekend.

The preview day went pretty well until the evening, when unexpected power problems occurred and the site lost power for a little while. But this is why you have a preview day right? Organizer [Brent Bushnell] even commented that he should have put a BETA badge on the ticket. Thankfully the outage coincided with the food truck arriving so everyone stopped for a burger.

Sadly all the fire based pieces were not active on the preview day since they didn’t have the appropriate safety measures in place yet, but they did get to show us most of their games. My personal favorites were the Hobby Horse Racing, and the Laser Foosball.

Here’s a quick run down of some of the stand out pieces.

[Read more...]

Dottie the Flip Dot Clock


What is it that we like so much about inefficient, noisy clocks made with inappropriate technology? Answer the question for yourself by watching the video (below) that [David Henshaw] sent us of Dottie, the flip-dot clock.

But besides the piece itself, we really like the progression in the build log, from “how am I going to do this?” to a boxed-up, finished project.

Another stunning aspect of this build is just how nice an acrylic case and a raft of cleverly written software can make a project look. You’d never guess from the front that the back-side was an (incredible) rat’s nest of breadboards and Ethernet wires. Those random switching patterns make you forget all the wiring.

And the servo-steered, solenoid-driven chimes are simply sweet. We’re sure that we’d love to hear them in real life.

[Read more...]

Hacklet 20 – Halloween Hacks


Hey, did you know that is continuously being updated and improved? One of the coolest features this week is the new LaTeX based equation editor. That’s right, you can now put symbols, equations, and all sorts of other LaTeX goodies into your posts. Check out [Brian Benchoff's] LaTeX demo project for more information.

Every holiday is a season for hacks, but Halloween has to be one of the best. From costumes to decorations, there are just tons of opportunities for great projects. We know that with an entire week left before the big day, most of you are still working on your projects. However a few early bird hackers already have Halloween themed projects up on We’re featuring them here – on the Hacklet!

pumpkin1[philmajestic] is in the Halloween spirit with his AVR Halloween Pumpkin. [Phil] created a motion activated Jack-o’-lantern with an ATmega328 as its brain. The AVR monitors a PIR motion sensor. When motion is detected, it flashes Jack’s LED eyes and plays spooky sound files from a WTV-020-16sd audio player. This is a great example of how a bit of work can create something cooler and infinitely more flexible than a store-bought decoration. Nice work [Phil]!

littlebitsPortraitThe littleBits crew have been working overtime on Halloween hacks this year. We definitely like their Halloween Creepy Portrait. A motion trigger, a servo, and a few glue bits are all it take to turn a regular portrait into a creepy one. When the motion detector is triggered, the servo moves a paper behind the portrait’s eyes. The replacement eyes look like some sort of demon or cat. Definitely enough to give us nightmares!

ironman[jeromekelty] helped his friend [Greg] build an incredible Animatronic Iron Man MKIII suit. The suit features RFID tags which trigger suit features. Since we’re talking about an Iron Man suit, “features” are things like shoulder rockets, boot thrusters, and a helmet that lifts up to reveal “Tony Stark”. No less than four Arduinos handle the various I/O’s. The suit even features an Adafruit WaveShield for authentic sounds! The electronics are just one piece of the puzzle here. [Greg] is a card-carrying member of the Replica Prop Forum. His MKIII suit is incredibly detailed. We especially like the weathering and battle damage!

tenticlesFinally, [Griff's] son is going to be wearing a Crochet Cthulhu Mask, with Arduino controlled tentacles for Halloween this year. [Griff] is an experienced crochet hobbiest. He’s mixing his love of needlework with his love of electronics to build the animated Cthulhu mask for his 4-year-old son. The mask is based on a free crochet pattern from ravelry, though [Griff] is making quite a few changes to support his application. The mask will be smaller to fit a 4-year-old, and will contain servos to move the tentacles. We haven’t heard from [Griff] in a while, so if you see him, tell him to post an update on the mask!

If you haven’t started working on your Halloween hacks, get busy! But don’t forget to upload them to! If we get enough, we’ll run a second Hacklet with even more great projects. Until then, you can check out our Halloween Projects List!

That’s about it for this frightful episode The Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!


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